As Michael Abernethy notes when mentioning Addams' recent induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame: "That Addams was a lesbian is a matter of speculation, as Addams wasn't gracious enough to leave an entry in her diaries that said 'I'm a big ole lesbian.'" Still, I can't believe that in the year 2009 grown men and women continue to debate whether she was gay.
Let me tell you a story about Jane Addams. When I was in fifth grade, my history class learned about child labor legislation and settlement houses and female involvement in social and political activism and all of that. Jane Addams was a big part of the unit. At the time I was an oblivious kid who'd yet to pick up on the fact that my aunt and her female roommate were more than roommates, but after reading a few paragraphs about Addams my gaydar started going off like Fannie Flagg -- "Match Game" era Fannie Flagg, the queerest of them all -- had entered the room.
The people who think Addams wasn't gay, the ones who can somehow keep a straight face while trying to sell us that "romantic friendship" line, they'll say that a ping (or twelve) on the gaydar is meaningless. Sometimes they'd even be right. But aren't they also being kind of deliberately obtuse?
The fifth-grade teacher who taught me about Jane Addams was a mild-mannered man in his mid-thirties who had never been married to a woman, professed not to have a girlfriend, but wore a wedding band anyway. He shared a house with, and routinely traveled with, his long-term male roommate. What would the historians who are reluctant to concede that Addams was likely gay (after all, they've never seen Paris Hilton-style video footage of her having sex with Mary Rozet Smith) make of my teacher and his "roommate," a man who was still in the picture years later when a friend's sibling took the same class and had the same teacher. Would they try to act like the two men were just very close pals, or would they do a collective spit-take and shout "Bitch, please!" if asked to believe they weren't a couple? I'm not a historian myself, but you can mark me down in the "Bitch, please!" camp when it comes to both Addams and my teacher.